In a speech on Sunday, May 26, brigadier-general Gholamreza Jalali of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said, the U.S. “uses social media for media and psychological operations to influence Iranians’ minds.”
He added that Washington has the opportunity to exercise soft power in exploiting both Iran’s lack of a defensive national intranet and its weakened economy, using “social media for placing its forces on a war footing against the Islamic Republic”.
Jalali maintained that possibility of a war between the two countries was minimal.
Social media and the effect of sanctions, he said, provided a two-pronged weapon for the U.S. which Iran would counter, he added.
“We will close social media and stop the U.S. directing Iranian public opinion through it,” said Jalali. He added: “The U.S. will also lose its leverage of economic sanctions if war breaks out.”
On a visit to Bushehr, the site of Iran’s sole nuclear reactor, last month, Jalali said that controlling social networks at the time of crises is a “must” that should “seriously be considered”.
The Islamic Republic has been talking about replacing the internet by a national network since 2010 – it was then expected to be fully operational within five years.
Critics insist the real aim is to tighten censorship and the authorities’ control over people’s use of the internet.
Iran’s national information network (NIN) is 80 percent complete, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution announced last week.
With the NIN, Tehran hopes to cut the country’s dependency on international cyberspace.
Brig-Gen Jalali said Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq carried lessons on how the U.S. might seek to control public opinion in the country. Though he did not elaborate on what these were, in the 1980s there was a brutal crackdown on dissent in the Islamic Republic.
Claiming that the U.S. had launched a “council” to rally Iranian opposition groups abroad, Jalali pointed to Iran’s influence in Middle East, threatening to retaliate against “Washington’s actions by employing the capacity of pro-Islamic Republic people in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, and many other countries.”
There is no evidence, however, that the council Jalali referred to exists.
A staunch advocate of blocking internet at the “time of crisis”, Jalali has a reputation for eccentric quips.
Last July he gained international attention after accusing Israel of “stealing Iran’s clouds”.
He said: “Israel and another country in the region have set up joint teams which work to ensure clouds entering Iranian skies are unable to release rain. On top of that, we are facing the issue of cloud and snow-theft.”
This was an attempt to blame “enemies” for years of drought in Iran. But last winter things changes and Iran was inundated by severe rains for weeks, causing devastating floods in large swaths of the country.